Tate Britain Unveils Groundbreaking Exhibition of Women Artists: “Now You See Us”

Lisbeth Thalberg
Maria Cosway, Georgiana as Cynthia from Spenser's 'Faerie Queene', 1781-82. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees / Bridgeman Images

London’s Tate Britain is proud to announce the opening of its groundbreaking exhibition, “Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain 1520-1920”. This comprehensive showcase marks a significant exploration into the vital role women have played in shaping the course of British art history over four centuries.

Spanning 400 years, “Now You See Us” eloquently narrates the challenges and triumphs faced by women artists in a profession historically dominated by men. Breaking barriers and defying societal expectations, these women paved the way for future generations, establishing a new paradigm for what it meant to be a woman in the British art world.

Featuring an impressive roster of over 100 artists, the exhibition brings to light the contributions of well-known figures like Artemisia Gentileschi, Angelica Kauffman, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Gwen John, among others. Equally, it shines a spotlight on lesser-known artists who are being rediscovered for their significant contributions to the art scene.

With more than 200 works on display, ranging from oil paintings and watercolours to sculptures and photographs, visitors are offered a unique opportunity to experience the diverse range of mediums these pioneering women worked in. “Now You See Us” begins its story in the Tudor court, showcasing the works of Levina Teerlinc and Esther Inglis, and extends through to the dawn of the 20th century—a period marked by women’s suffrage and the First World War.

The exhibition vividly illustrates the evolution of women’s roles within the art world, from their early contributions as professional portrait painters in the oil medium, to their involvement in Britain’s first public art exhibitions. Notably, it highlights the stories of artists like Mary Beale, Joan Carlile, Maria Verelst, Katherine Read, and Mary Black, who broke new ground and defied the norms of their times.

In addition to the artistic achievements of these women, “Now You See Us” also explores their connection to activism and their fight for equality in the art world. It recounts the tireless efforts of trailblazers like Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, who campaigned for women’s admission into the Royal Academy Schools—an achievement that was met with the eventual admission of women artists to art schools and life drawing classes.

Concluding in the early 20th century, the exhibition showcases the works of Laura Knight and Ethel Walker, alongside other women artists who played a critical role in the emergence of modernism. Through their bold and ambitious endeavors, these women achieved critical acclaim and, importantly, secured their rightful place within professional institutions like the Royal Academy.

“Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain 1520-1920” at Tate Britain not only celebrates the achievements of these remarkable women but also encourages a reexamination of their impact on the art world. This exhibition is an unmissable event for anyone interested in exploring the rich tapestry of British art history through the lens of women who dared to challenge the status quo.

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Journalist and artist (photographer). Editor of the art section at MCM. Contact: art (@) martincid (.) com
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